Korea reported an additional 599 cases of the new coronavirus on Monday, pushing up the total to 4,335, as the government speeds up testing on a massive scale.
Since the nation found the first confirmed patients on Jan. 20, 26 people, mostly those with underlying diseases, have died of COVID-19 with 31 leaving hospital fully recovered.
Of the 599 new cases, 377 are in Daegu, Korea’s fourth-largest city with a population of 2.5 million, and 68 in surrounding North Gyeongsang Province, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Together, the two local autonomous bodies account for three-quarters of the nation’s total infections.
About 60 percent of new coronavirus infections have also been associated with the local chapter of the Sincheonji Church, a new Christian sect in Daegu. The number of new COVID-cases is expected to surge for the time being as the health authorities have begun more than 210,000 members of the sect. Its founder, Lee Man-hee, also has reportedly undergone a test at an unknown place.
The KCDC currently releases updated figures twice a day – at 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Korean infectious disease experts said on Monday that COVID-19 has a high possibility of becoming pandemic as the virus is spreading throughout the world.
The World Health Organization (WHO) also lifted the global alert level from high to very high on Feb. 28, as COVID-19 had spread to 50 countries in the six continents in two months since it was first reported in Wuhan, China, on Dec. 31, 2019.
However, the WHO has not yet declared COVID-19 as a pandemic. Pandemic is a term used to indicate an infectious disease that spreads beyond a country and poses threats to the entire human population on the globe. WHO declared a pandemic when the 2009 flu spread worldwide.
"COVID-18 is likely to become a pandemic considering the current situation," said Professor Choi Won-suk of Infectious Disease Division at Korea University Ansan Hospital.
Professor Kim Woo-joo at Infectious Disease Division at Korea University Guro Hospital, also said, “COVID-19, which occurred in all continents, including Europe, North and South America, as well as Asia, is close to a pandemic in terms of the three stages – developing from domestic to international and to inter-continental,"
Professor Um Joong-sik of Infectious Disease Division at Gachon University Gil Hospital agreed that COVID-19 satisfies pandemic conditions as it infected patients in every continent and local communities in many countries. He added that the lack of vaccine and medicine provides the perfect situation for COVID-19 to be a pandemic.
U.S. President Donald Trump said Monday that America would conduct medical tests on visitors who enter the nation from high-risk countries.
The decision appeared to be a follow-up measure of the Trump administration's policy to strengthen medical examinations, announced by Vice President Mike Pence, head of COVID-19 task force, who raised the travel alert level for Daegu to the highest on Sunday.
The U.S. has not barred the entrance from Korea yet. However, as the first death confirmed in the U.S., Washington raised the alert level for some areas in Korea and implemented double screening on entrance and departure to prevent COVID-19 spreading.
On Sunday, Korea said it would reinforce the identification of COVID-19 symptoms before people get aboard the flight to reduce the possibility of U.S. barring entrance from Korea.
"We are reviewing measures for airlines to conduct health and temperature check," the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
National flag-carriers, such as the Korean Air and Asiana Airlines, have discussed plans to expand the fever screening and health checks conducted on those who left for the United States since Feb 28.
As of 5 p.m. Monday, the number of people tested for COVID-19 exceeded 100,000. Korea conducted a virus test on 105,379 people aside from the 4,335 confirmed cases, and 71,580 showed negative. Results for the other 33,399 are being analyzed.
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